Apr 24 2014
Acting has been defined as “seeming real in an unreal situation.” Boy, does that describe voice over! What is more distant from “real life” than to be locked in a padded cell accompanied by nothing more than a hunk of metal, a sheet of paper and a glass of water?
Thus every voice over performer, whatever the genre, must be a “voice actor” of sorts. In telephony, you must sound like you’re personally meeting the caller and be interested in the reason for their call. In museum tours, you must envision each painting, sculpture, etc. as you describe it. In wildlife narration, you must “see” the subject, and (as in another classic definition of acting) subtly react to what happens in the visual. In promo, you must think it’s the most spectacular (or whatever) program ever made. And so on.
In any form of acting, it’s easy to fall back on various “tricks.” How many times have you seen an actor glance off-stage, or pause in an odd point in the line, become “theatrical,” or repeat a personal tick? The first few times they do it, it may seem real, because real people do those things. But by fifth time or so, it can be downright annoying. Good play-acting is more than memorizing lines and using a few gimmicks.
So it is with voice over. You can inflect a sentence a certain way, pause too long or too often, fake a chuckle, or constrain your voice, etc. only so many times before the listener finds you out.
There is no way we can teach “acting” in these few paragraphs. And if you’re not a trained actor (or aiming to be), we don’t mean to intimidate you by suggesting you need to have started acting at age 6, or pursue all the serious acting training that a broader acting career entails. Because as a voice actor, you generally don’t.
But hopefully we can open your mind to its importance of acting, beyond its obvious use in dialogs, audiobooks and animation. “Acting” ability opens many, many opportunities for any voice over artist.
- When you’re stumped for a way to bring freshness and life to a script, acting can save your day. Faced with yet another Presidents’ Day Sale script? Imagine you’re at the sales counter and have just found the last item on the shelf at that price. Maybe only you will notice the subtle difference in your delivery. But at the least, it makes the difference between being motivated versus false energy or sounding bored. Or being bored.
- Are you imploring the listener to contribute cancer research, or save the life of a dog? Well, that’s too easy. The emotion is built in. Suppose you need to bring the same emotion to, oh, the listener’s need to change her toothpaste. It may not be a dog or a cancer patient you need to recall, but there is something in your own experience that resembles the need you’re describing. Use how you felt then.
- Are you presenting a “while you’re waiting” sales message to a telephone caller on hold? Remember to use emotion. As in a conversation, each sentence follows logically from the one before it. But it adds a new thought, else why would you say it? It explains what came before. Or twists it. Or counters it. Or builds on it. The new sentence therefore carries a new “emotion.” So express this emotional progression as you read. There are some exceptions (“The time at the tone will be 3 o’clock” comes to mind) but generally this advice applies to virtually any script in any genre.
- Are you explaining to someone the history of your client’s company? To your client, the story is more than words. So as you say them, you might imagine you’re the business owner. Or turn it around — speak to someone specific who you know, as if they are the applicant for a job. Choose someone you know well. If it’s difficult to “see” that person in front of you as you speak, imagine the script is that person’s face. “Playing to the paper” works for some people. Use whatever works for you.
And that is our point. Use what works for you, but as you develop your bag of tricks, make them more than technical. Each of the observations above is a mindset, not just a growl or a pause.
And, as trained actors know, you don’t bring out these techniques only when you enter the vocal booth. You use them every day, by observing the real world and its people around you, noting who they are and what they do, remembering what might be useful in an artificial situation. Whatever works for you.
For more information about Voice Acting or to book with one of our coaches, please call our studio at 888-321-3343 or email [email protected].